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Creative Audigy 2 ZS, a Digital Home Theater, Surround Sound, DISAPPOINTMENT!

Discussion in 'Soundblaster Live' started by Larry, Jan 23, 2004.

  1. Larry

    Larry Guest

    Ok,

    I have a great home theater and just built a "home theater PC" (HTPC).
    I purchased the Creative Audigy 2 ZS for the HTPC, on the hopes that
    the card would communicate 5.1 surround sound information to my home
    theater, for DVD playback and enriching MP3 playback.

    One of the value-adds, in my opinion, of Creative cards is their CMSS
    technology that can upconvert stereo-based (i.e. 2-channel) content of
    MP3's into 5.1 or 7.1 (6 or 8 channel) content.

    However, I cannot connect this card into my home theater in any
    meaningful way to enable surround sound. Let me describe the problem,
    to serve as a warning for anyone who is in the same situation, and
    perhaps someone out there has some information that will help me.

    There are TWO ways to connect the Audigy 2 ZS to a speaker system:
    Digital and Analog.

    DIGITAL

    Industry standard for digital (AC3) connections involves a single data
    stream that contains "compressed audio information." In other words,
    the separate channels (i.e. of 5.1 or 7.1 audio channels – called
    "multichannel") are mixed together using Dolby Digital or DTS
    specifications of ENCODING, sent over the coax or fiber connection,
    and DECODED by a receiver (in most home theater systems).

    Cable requirements: A 2-pole (i.e. mono) minijack to RCA-male
    connector. The 2-pole minijack connects into the digital SPDIF
    connector on the Audigy 2 ZS card (top most port) and a coax
    connection on your A/V receiver. You can get this cable at Radio
    Shack, although be prepared to have it ordered and wait a week.
    Higher quality is better.

    Sound Output: Surround sound is ONLY available when playing DVD
    games, or DVD movies, or standalone AC3 files on the Audigy 2 ZS; for
    everything else, just stereo (i.e. right and left speakers only) is
    available. In other words, you only get surround sound when what
    you're playing already has multichannel sound encoded in the data
    stream. I'm guessing there are plenty of DVD games that do not
    possess pre-encoded digital audio, and rely on the software drivers of
    an audio card, like the Audigy 2 ZS (although I haven't confirmed
    this). You CANNOT take advantage of the CMSS technology or other
    audio processing functions of the card for surround sound on a home
    theater system utilizing the digital out of the Audigy 2 ZS.

    To be fair, this is only for home theater systems, or other systems
    that do their own digital decoding. Powered speakers, such as
    Creative "digital" speakers, are designed to take the non-standard
    cabling of the Audigy 2 ZS card, and use the separate digital streams
    to play surround sound content. In other words, the Audigy 2 ZS card
    decodes content from DVD's, or simply sends multichannel content
    (generated by CMSS) over separate channels using the 4-pole minijack
    cable.

    PROBLEM: Although the Audigy 2 ZS has a Dolby Digital decoder, it
    doesn't possess a Dolby Digital encoder. So, CMSS can turn stereo
    content into surround content, and send that content out either analog
    (as separate sound channels), or send the content out vis-à-vis their
    proprietary 4-pole minijack cables.

    Again, to be fair, I haven't found any sound cards that appear to
    support this, although I have seen some motherboards supporting this
    functionality (see ASUS A7N266-E).

    ANALOG

    Cable requirements: Line-Out 1 for Front-Right (FR) and Front-Left
    (FL) speakers, uses a 3-pole (i.e. common stereo) minijack to 2-male
    RCA connectors. Line-Out 2 for Rear-Right (RR), Rear-Left (RL) and
    Side-Right (SR) speakers, uses a very non-standard 4-pole minijack to
    3-male RCA connectors. Line-Out 3 for Center (C), Subwoofer (SW) and
    Side-Left (SL) speakers, uses the same non-standard 4-pole minijack.
    The cable for Line-Out 1 is commonly available anywhere. The cable
    for Line-Outs 2 and 3 (i.e. the 4-pole minijack) isn't available
    anywhere, as far as I can tell – and it's not available from Creative.

    Sound Output: This is why a Dolby Digital DECODER (as opposed to an
    encoder) is important. DVD games, or DVD movies, or standalone AC3
    files, as well as CMSS content (i.e. stereo content that is remixed
    for surround sound), outputs to the separate analog channels. This is
    what Creative CLAIMS is available for individuals desiring to use the
    Audigy 2 ZS audio cards for their home theater systems.

    PROBLEM: Creative doesn't provide specifications, references or other
    assistance to obtaining the proper 4-pole minijack cables necessary
    for use on home theater systems. Creative doesn't appear to sell
    these cables. My research on the Internet has shown that there are
    lots of people – perhaps thousands – who have mixed results trying a
    slew of different options (by trial and error) trying to get surround
    content on their home entertainment systems.

    Currently, I have tried 2-pole (i.e. mono), 3-pole (i.e. stereo) and
    4-pole (from my Sony video camera), all without success on the Audigy
    2 ZS for playing surround sound.

    Questions:
    (1) Do I have this right?
    (2) Does anyone have any recommendation on getting surround sound
    content, generated by CMSS, to a home theater? What cables do you
    use? Where can you buy them?
    (3) Better yet, does anyone have a better Sound Card recommendation?
    Ideally something that can conduct real-time Dolby Digital (and DTS)
    encoding, as well as some form of competition to CMSS (i.e.
    upconverting stereo content to surround-sound content)?

    Thank you! Larry.
     
    Larry, Jan 23, 2004
    #1
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  2. Larry

    Lenny Guest

    It's basically just fake, at best, it's technology similar to Dolby
    Pro-Logic (II), using pre-existing phase-shifting to assign certain
    frequencies to a particular speaker, but more likely it probably just
    duplicates sound, since DPL tech is patented by Dolby Labs. This is because
    you can't really create that which is not already there. Unless the source
    audio has at least DPL encoding (which supports center channel and mono rear
    channel, or better yet, DPL2, which has stereo surround channel support),
    there is no way to know which sound is intended to come from what speaker.
    Actually, the connection is called SPDIF (Sony-Philips Digital InterFace, I
    believe); AC-3 is just another (older) name for Dolby Digital.
    Hm, I was pretty sure the Audigy2 ZS uses a coax-to-coax connection, as
    there seems to be a RCA jack on the backplate (lowest connector). You sure
    it's a minijack? If so, what the hell's the RCA plug for then? :)
    Ahem, one should be able to get this in just about any well-stocked hifi
    store. And don't worry about quality too much as long as the cable isn't
    excessively long. Digital signals are considerably more robust than analog.
    That's because the SPDIF connection doesn't have the bandwidth required for
    more than two channels of uncompressed audio, and the on-board DSP isn't
    designed to compress Dolby Digital or DTS in real-time. So far, only Nvidia
    NForce PC chipset and Microsoft XBox can do Dolby Digital real-time. Sony
    Playstation 2 is able to do DTS realtime, if the game software is designed
    for it. Not that this helps you in any way though! ;)

    To get multichannel sound from a realtime source with the Audigy, you need
    to use the analog outputs (like with every other add-in PC board, so that's
    nothing new).
    Actually, they're standardized in the PC world; even the color coding for
    the various outputs are standardized. :)

    You can use a software DVD player like PowerDVD for example to decode
    multichannel audio on your system's CPU and output the channels through the
    card's analog outputs, you won't need an external decoder as long as your
    amplifier/speaker system supports the multiple analog connections the Audigy
    provides.
    Actually, I don't think it has... That's most likely a CPU-driven function
    through the soundcard drivers, just like the de-clicking feature, etc. :)
    I believe they expect you to buy their own multichannel speaker systems (or
    a compatible speaker system from another vendor, such as Videologic, etc.
    Logitech also has a veeeery nice 5.1 system with digital DD/DTS and analog
    DPL2 decoders which is suited for Audigy2 use in 5.1 speaker output mode).
    Nothing in the PC world or remotely connected, can do DTS encoding. Only
    NForce motherboards can do DD encoding, and unless you have an AMD Athlon
    system, you're screwed there or else have to buy new CPU too in addition to
    new mobo.
     
    Lenny, Jan 23, 2004
    #2
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  3. The cables are the same as one that is sold as a Sony Camcorder cable,
    though the same cable is also used for several other brands of camcorders
    and portable DVD players. The cable is available from Sony and a number of
    online sites, and there is premium version that is available from Monster.

    --
    Harvey Fong
    Technical Marketing Specialist
    Audio - Speakers - Portable Digital Entertainment
    Creative Labs Inc. - USA
    http://us.creative.com
     
    Harvey Fong [Creative Labs], Jan 24, 2004
    #3
  4. Larry

    Dan Raymond Guest

    Cable requirements: A 2-pole (i.e. mono) minijack to RCA-male
    How sure is "pretty sure"? I just bought an Audigy2 ZS and I am
    looking at it right now. There are no RCA connectors on this thing.
    You don't need a special cable for this. Radio Shack sells an adapter
    for $3.99 that has a male mono 1/8" minijack on one side and a female
    RCA connector on the other. My local Radio Shack had it in stock.
    The part number is 274-897. Here is a picture of it:

    http://www.radioshack.com/product.asp?catalog_name=CTLG&category_name=&product_id=274-897
     
    Dan Raymond, Jan 31, 2004
    #4
  5. Larry

    Lenny Guest

    Well, I looked at pics of it online, and there was what looked like a
    larger-diameter plug down towards the bottom of the card. As it turned out,
    it was just a regular 3.5mm headphone jack like the others, but with a
    larger hole stamped out of the backplate for some bizarre reason. Most sites
    I saw that tested the card used Creative's own images, and it was difficult
    to make out from the pics they have, so it was a mistake on my part. They
    COULD have fitted a proper phono connector there instead though, no problem
    whatsoever. Bit silly they didn't, but not that it really matters much in
    the end I guess.
    Heh, I know. I bought one too tuesday this week, along with a Logitech MX900
    Bluetooth mouse. :) (Which is pretty darn nifty btw.)

    Have to say it works great. Sound feels richer overall compared to the ol'
    Live, and having full 5.1 sound is of course very nice. I get digital sound
    using the digital coax cable Sony helpfully supplied me with when I bought a
    HT-BE1 surround system in february last year for use with my PS2 console (to
    watch DVD movies with DTS sound and such), a small conversion plug like you
    mentioned (not from Radio Shack though), and I could hook it up to my
    Logitech speaker system instead. I'm very satisfied, the Z-680 speakers
    sound totally awesome with this soundcard, it's completely mindboggling. :)
    I played a bit of Half-Life, and a CD case came tumbling down from on top of
    a stack because of the vibrations from the subwoofer! Amazing.

    Also, you should check out www.personalcopy.com/ for some super nice
    Audigy-compatible soundfonts, in case you ever listen to MIDI tunes or play
    keyboard yourself. There are soundfonts there weighing in at 50+ MB, some
    really slick work. All for free too, btw.
     
    Lenny, Feb 1, 2004
    #5
  6. Larry

    wwc Guest

    wwc, Feb 9, 2004
    #6
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